For many years philodendron has been a popular interior plant. Its rich, green foliage is a great way to add color and interest to your home. An easy to care for plant, whether you are an experienced gardener or completely new to the hobby, philodendron is a great place to start.
Did you know that the name philodendron is derived from the Greek language? Philo means to love or loving and dendron which means tree.
The philodendron is native to the tropical regions of the Americas. Gardeners in the warmest USDA zones can grow the plant outside. For the rest of us, the philodendron is best grown as a houseplant or as part of a living wall.
A pleasingly easy to cultivate plant, philodendrons are prized for their versatility and attractive foliage.
Philodendron happily grows indoors. However, during the warmest parts of the year it will benefit from some time outside. A sheltered, shady spot on a balcony or patio is ideal. Unlike more sensitive houseplants, philodendrons are unbothered by an occasional change in position.
Warning Philodendron foliage and stems are high in calcium oxalate. This can be toxic to animals and humans when eaten.
A member of the Araceae family, philodendron is often confused with pothos. This is because both plants produce similar shaped foliage. The key difference between the two is that pothos is a smaller plant than philodendron. In fact pothos is often sold as a hanging basket plant. Additionally, pothos foliage is often variegated with noticeable yellow or white patches.
There are two main types of philodendron: vining and non-vining or self heading.
Vining philodendrons include varieties such as Blushing and the popular Heartleaf. As the name suggests these plants vine or climb. This means that you need to provide some form of support such as a trellis. The heartleaf cultivar is particularly popular for its heart shaped foliage. A low maintenance option heartleaf, like other varieties, can also be grown in moss or water.
Erubescens is another popular climbing variety that produces attractive red stems and foliage. For something truly eye catching, try Melanochrysum. This variety produces attractive dark, velvety foliage with a bronze shade.
It is the foliage of these plants that provides the primary interest. Both vining and non-vining varieties have a range of different, patterned cultivars.
Self-heading or non-vining philodendrons include the Bird’s Nest and Lacy Tree varieties. These have an upright, spreading growth habit. Their spread can often be twice as wide as the plant is tall.
Some varieties such as P. bipinnatifidum, or Tree Philodendron, can reach a height of 8 ft and produce foliage about 3 ft in size. Make sure you have enough room in your home before you purchase.
For a smaller plant try Rojo. This is a small, self-heading hybrid that has a pleasing, compact growth habit.
One of the most reliable varieties is the Sweetheart Plant (Philodendron Scandens). This variety is also ideally suited to indoor growth.
When selecting your plant take the time to find a variety that fits into your growing space. Bear in mind that varieties with velvety foliage are less tolerant of bright light positions.
Potting and Repotting
Depending on the variety you select, philodendron plants can be incredibly quick growing. Climbing varieties have an especially fast growth habit. Pinching out new growth helps to keep the plant to a manageable size.
A consequence of their rapid growth habit, climbing philodendron varieties require repotting once a year. This prevents the plants from becoming potbound. Self-heading varieties are slower to grow and can be repotted as needed.
The most obvious sign that the plant requires re-potting is when roots begin to emerge from the drainage holes in the bottom of the container. Growth may also slow and the soil may dry out more quickly.
What Soil Should I Use?
A loose, well draining potting soil rich in nutrients and organic matter is ideal. A fresh, general purpose compost or soil mix is best. To further enrich the soil, work in homemade compost or other organic matter before planting. You can also grow the plants in sphagnum peat moss.
Always use fresh or sterile potting material. This reduces the risk of soil borne diseases attacking your plants.
How to Plant
Carefully remove the plant from its container. Squeeze the container gently to loosen the soil. This allows you to easily remove the plant without damaging the roots.
Your new container should be clean and have drainage holes in the bottom. It should be one size, or two inches wider and deeper, than the old container. Don’t plant in an overly large container. Philodendron likes to sit in compact conditions. If you want a truly low maintenance option, try planting in a self-watering container.
Fill the new container about a third full with fresh soil.
Center the plant in the container. The top of the root system should sit just below the top of the container. When you are happy with the position of the plant, fill the container with more fresh soil and gently firm down. Water the plant well before returning it to its usual position.
How to Care for Philodendron
Hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11 philodendron plants are commonly grown indoors.
Native to the tropical regions, philodendron grows best in warm, bright, humid positions. Once you find the right position for your philodendron, care is pleasingly easy.
A position near a window where the plant can receive lots of bright, indirect light is ideal. Try to find a position where the rays of the sun won’t directly contact the foliage of the plant. This can cause sunburn or scorching. Yellowing foliage, while common in older leaves, can be a sign that the plant is receiving too much light.
Dappled light, similar to the tropical canopy, is ideal. Placing blinds or net curtains in a window can recreate this effect.
A philodendron becoming leggy is a sign that the plant is not receiving enough light. If you struggle to provide enough natural light, grow lights are a great solution.
If you are growing a climbing variety regularly push any aerial roots back into the soil.
Knowing how often to water houseplants can be difficult. Philodendron plants like the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
The easiest way to gauge the condition of the soil is to stick your index finger into the container. If the soil is dry to the first knuckle then it is time to water the plant.
A soil moisture gauge provides a more accurate measure of your soils condition. The Atree Soil pH Meter allows you to not only measure the moisture content of your soil but also the pH levels of the soil and how much sunlight the plant is receiving. This is particularly useful for indoor plants.
If the foliage begins to droop it is a sign that the plant is getting too much or not enough water. The plant quickly recovers once you have amended your watering routine.
Apply a balanced houseplant fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro Indoor Plant Food, once a month during the spring and summer. A liquid fertilizer can be easily incorporated into your watering routine. During the fall and winter this regularity can be reduced to one feed every 6 to 8 weeks.
If the plant is slow to grow, or the foliage seems small, it is a sign that the plant requires more fertilizer. Pale foliage is an indication that the plant is lacking in either magnesium or calcium. These are both essential nutrients for healthy philodendron plants.
Alternatively slow release pellets can also be worked into the soil at the start of the growing season. This provides the plants with a constant supply of nutrients during the spring and summer months.
Temperature and Humidity
Philodendrons dislike prolonged exposure to temperatures below 55 ℉. The plants thrive in humidity. Placing a humidifier nearby helps to maintain humidity levels.
Alternatively try placing the plants on a humidity tray. This helps to maintain humidity levels. If you don’t have a humidity tray you can easily make your own. To do this, fill a saucer with pebbles and water. Place the container on the pebbles, making sure that the container isn’t contacting the water. Prolonged contact with water can cause the plants to develop root rot. Remember to regularly refill the saucer as the water evaporates.
Regularly misting plants can also help to maintain humidity levels. However, compared to using a humidifier or humidity tray, this is quite a high maintenance option. Misting needs to be done once every other day during the spring and summer. During the winter mist the plants once every three or four days.
Plants positioned correctly in warm, humid conditions produce rich, green foliage. If your plant seems pale, or is fading, it may be a sign that the plant isn’t entirely happy with its current situation.
Common Pests and Problems
Properly cared for, these plants are pleasingly problem free.
Houseplant pests such as aphids, scale, thrips, mealybugs and spider mites can all target the plants. Regularly check your plants for any sign of infestation. Wiping the foliage with either soapy water or neem oil removes most infestations.
Mealybugs can be removed with an application of rubbing alcohol rubbed onto the foliage with a cotton swab. Persistent or large infestations may need more than one course of treatment to fully cure the plant.
How to Propagate
Climbing varieties can be propagated from stem cuttings.
With a sterile garden scissors, take a healthy cutting about 4 inches long. Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone. While not strictly necessary, cuttings can be successfully propagated without the use of rooting hormone, it does increase the chances of the cutting succeeding.
Place the cutting in a glass of fresh water or a small container filled with fresh compost. If you are rooting in water remember to change the water every day. After a while you will see new roots emerging from the bottom of the cutting.
As long as cuttings placed in the soil appear healthy then you can assume the cutting is successful. To check that roots are forming if your cutting is in the soil, gently pull the cutting. If you feel resistance it is a good indication that the plant is developing a root system.
Once a good set of roots has emerged re-plant the cutting in a larger container filled with fresh soil.
Self-heading varieties can also be propagated from cuttings. They may also set out small plantlets. Once the plantlets reach a decent size they can be cut from the plant and potted on.
Use a sterile garden scissors to remove the plantlets from the mother plant. Plant the plantlets in small containers filled with fresh, well draining soil and grow on as new plants. Care for the plantlets as you would a larger philodendron plant.
Propagation can be a slow process, taking up to two months. Don’t be disheartened if roots are slow to emerge. As long as the cutting remains healthy it is still alive.
Philodendron rarely flowers indoors. This makes propagation from seed impossible.
Easy to care for and surprisingly robust, the philodendron is an ideal houseplant for beginners and experienced gardeners alike.
Philodendron is an incredibly popular houseplant. It is also endlessly fascinating. One of the most interesting things about the philodendron plant is that its foliage color changes as it ages. As well as its fascinating foliage these are also easy to care for plants.
Pleasingly attractive philodendron is a great way to add color and interest to your home or work space.